In late November I had planned a trip to Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt for some winter sunshine. I got a good deal from my travel agent- Business class return on Egyptair and a week at the Four Seasons at Sharm el Sheikh for £1,800.
As there is only one direct flight per week between LHR and SSH, I had little choice but to take the Sunday flight.
Sun 30 Nov 2003
MS 766 LHR-SSH
Scheduled Dep. Time: 15.15
Actual Dep. Time: 15.30
Aircraft: A320 "St. Catherine"
Scheduled Arrival Time: 22.30
Actual Arrival Time: 22.35
I took a taxi from my home in Central London out to Heathrow- always a bit of a rip off (around £45), but convenient for me, even though I live near Green Park station, and could take the tube quite easily.
Egyptair flights depart from Terminal 3 and I found by coincidence that the taxi had dropped me at the right door for the Egyptair check in. The last flight that I took from Terminal 3 was an EK flight to Dubai a couple of years ago, and I remembered that T3 was a pretty gruesome experience at the time.
There were long queues for the flight leaving for Cairo, and a smaller queue for the Sharm el Sheikh flight. As there was no business class check in for my flight, I went to check in at the First Class counter for the Cairo flight. I half expected to be redirected to the Sharm counter, but we were checked in smoothly and courteously and were allocated seats 1A and 1C. It must have taken about 3 minutes.
We went up to departures and went through security. There were long queues and it must have taken us about 20 minutes to get through.
Upon clearing security I remembered why I disliked T3 so much. It was so busy and BAA seem to have a policy of putting shops just about everywhere, which makes it really hard to find your way around.
Egyptair uses the Servisair lounge which is next to the Virgin Clubhouse, but the map that they gave us is quite misleading, so we wandered the concourse for a while until we finally found out where to go. It is quite secluded and a bit of an effort to find it. The Servisair lounge was fairly full but at least there was one window that offered a view out onto the apron. As you would expect, it was fairly busy out there. I suppose the highlight for me was an Air Mauritius A340.
After an hour or so we decided to go to the gate even though the flight was not called. We were leaving from Gate 30 which is not too far considering that some of the piers at T3 can be a 20 minute hike!
As usual the pier looked run down and shabby, with wires hanging from the ceiling, travelators out of order and sections cordoned off for maintenance. The shabbiness of Terminal 1,2 and 3 at LHR never ceases to amaze me, and I always wonder how visitors to the UK perceive their first experience of LHR. Having recently visited the new airport at ATH, it amazes me that LHR is such a mess.
When we got to the gate the flight had already boarded, so there was no queue. The business class cabin (10 seats) was full and I noticed that the economy section of the A320 was about 60% full. I had thought that an A320 would feel claustrophobic for a 5 hour flight, but this was not the case.
The business class seats were quite generous in a 2 x 2 configuration. Sitting in row 1, the top half of the bulkhead in front was made of perspex, which meant that we had a clear view of the preparations for the flight. I know that Egyptair had recently taken delivery of new A320 aircraft, but I gathered that this was not one of them, even though the interior was clean and well-presented.
The cabin staff were not too friendly, but I attributed this to the need to push back on time. We were offered hot towels and juice before take off.
We were amongst the last passengers to board and soon we were pushing back. The safety video was then shown using drop down screens, in Arabic and English, with French and German subtitles.
Soon we were in the queue for take off, behind a Swiss A319 and a BA 747 coming from T4. Take off was in an easterly direction over the west of London and soon we were in the clouds.
Within about 10 minutes of take off, the cabin crew came around with newspapers and began the meal service. We were given menus and our trays were set up with pink linen cloths. I have never seen this happen before, but the flight attendant got some tape and stuck a few tray cloths over the clear part of the bulkhead at this point- it looked terrible! Why have a see through bulkhead?
At this point we entered some turbulence, so service was halted for about 5 minutes, but soon resumed. As we were flying south east, night soon fell, but because of cloud cover there was little to see out of the window. There was no information given about our routing or ETA at SSH.
Even though we had a 5 hour flight ahead of us, the cabin staff were in a real rush to get the meal out of the way. This has to be my pet peeve when flying on medium to long haul routes! The meal itself was substantial and consisted of rice with beef stew, salad, bread and cheese, followed by cheesecake.
Egyptair does not serve alcohol, but they do not mind if passengers bring their own!
Soon the meal was cleared away, but no coffee was served. About half an hour later the coffee appeared. Then I was thinking "Ho hum, only another 4 hours to kill!"
After the meal the IFE began on the drop down screens. There was some crazy film called "Holes". If anyone out there can tell me what the hell that was about, I'd appreciate it. I suppose that watching it without using my headphones didn't help...
At this stage the flight got seriously boring. Then the cloud cleared and I thought that we were following the coast of Italy on a south-easterly routing.
After what seemed like an eternity we began our descent into SSH. The landing was incredibly smooth and we taxied quickly onto stand. The flight was then continuing on to Cairo.
It was a great feeling to exit the plane and not feel cold. We were bussed to the terminal. There was a fair amount of activity at that time of night- a Ukrainian 737, another Egyptair A320 and a Britannia 767.
SSH airport is pretty basic but clean and works well. Soon we were being collected for our 10 minute drive to the Four Seasons Resort- that is one amazing hotel and we had a great week there. I would recommend it to anyone!
Sun 07 Dec 2003
MS 765 SSH- LHR
Scheduled Dep. Time: 09.15
Actual Dep. Time: 09.40
Aircraft: A320- Didn't get the name or the reg.
Scheduled Arrival Time: 13.15
Actual Arrival Time: 13.15
All too soon the week was over, and we arrived back at Sharm airport for the return flight. We were checked in by our travel rep, so we waited while he queued. There is no business class check in at SSH. The terminal was busy with Egyptair flights to Geneva, Cairo and Frankfurt.
The departures area is quite small and there is no business class lounge at SSH. The shopping is pretty minimal and there are some seriously tacky souvenir shops and a Sbarro that sells "coffee" that is actually coloured water.
We were boarded by bus and apart from the Egyptair departures, I noticed a seriously ropey-looking 737-200 of AMC Airlines parked. Does anyone know anything about that airline?
I didn't get the reg or name of the A320 that we boarded, but I think that it was one of Egpytair's new acquisitions, as the interior looked brand new, the seats were better and the IFE offered skymap. The first impression on boarding the plane was an overwhelming stench of fish. I am not sure if we got used to it, or if it subsided after a while! Business class (14 seats) was about 50% full, and I think that economy was full.
We were in seats 8D and 8F, which was bizarrely the first row of business class on that 2 class configuration. As I mentioned, the interior and seats were a lot smarter than on the outward leg. The cabin crew were much nicer too, and they seemed to be more experienced than the other crew coming out. It is amazing how a different crew can change your view of an airline. I know that people will be muttering out there that the job of the crew begins and ends with safety. I agree, but when airlines aggressively market their service and comfort, passengers begin to expect more than just arriving in one piece.
We had a relatively short taxi to the holding point, during which the safety video was shown. Some info about our routing: We took off over the Gulf of Aqaba and had a great view of the Sinai desert for the first half an hour or so of the flight. We then crossed the southern end of the Suez canal and overflew Cairo before heading out across the Med over Alexandria.
We then flew over Crete and followed the east coast of Italy until reaching Venice, then overflew the Alps and caught a great view of ZRH airport before heading over NE France and then the Channel.
The service on the return leg was much better than the outgoing flight. Breakfast of coffee, juice and cakes was served shortly after take off. Then drinks followed before lunch somewhere over the Adriatic. Lunch consisted of veal or the fish that we could smell on boarding. Neither option was spectacular.
The IFE offered a variety of Egyptian pop videos, skymap and a film. Due to a technical fault we were spared "Daddy Daycare" and got "Meet The InLaws" instead. There was also an excellent selection of English newspapers from the previous day.
Overall I would recommend Egyptair for the cheap business class ticket and the fact that they are the only scheduled carrier offering a direct LHR-SSH service.
Both flights were on time and landed smoothly, and the aircraft were clean.
The service was much better on the return flight, but that happens with every airline. Although Egyptair is a "dry" airline, they have a very relaxed attitude to passengers who bring their own drinks.
I am wondering why BA doesn't fly this route and perhaps combine it with Alexandria, given the market for upmarket tourism to Sharm.
I intend to go back to Sharm, and I am wondering if I should try Egyptair again, or take a charter and upgrade to their first class? Any ideas?
As usual any comments or questions will be appreciated!